The Love of Life

53. Old Lady K'ung


This is something that happened during the later years of the reign of the emperor Ch’ienlung, towards the end of the eighteenth century.

The people in a place called Junchou were all mean. They actually enjoyed killing. Not just the boys and men were cruel, but the old folks, the women, and even the little girls were mean, too. There weren’t many little girls, though, because the people there preferred boys. If they had a baby girl, they’d drown her and try again. They didn’t care that they were killing their own babies, so you can imagine how they treated animals!

They taught their children to collect ‘spiral lion’ snails to sell and to eat. Kids gathered snails and clams and frogs, and even the littlest kids knew how to kill these animals with a knife. If a father or mother found their children mistreating animals, they would smile proudly and say, “What a smart kid I’ve got!”

Of course since the children there were brought up that way, they took it for granted that butchering animals was good, so when they grew up, they killed any animal they could lay their hands on.

But that’s not to say that everybody in Junchou was rotten to the core. There was one nice old lady named Kung. She was about the only person there who knew better than to kill animals. In fact, she used to save spiral lions that had wandered too far from the water. She saved a lot of ants from getting stepped on. All her neighbors laughed at her and said she was a nut.

One night a fisherman dreamed that two men dressed in black official uniforms picked up a book from the river bank.

“What’s that book?” he asked.

“This is a record of good deeds and bad deeds. There are a lot of debts due for all you people’s killing. You had better watch out!”

The fisherman didn’t think much of the dream, because he had always killed things, but five days later, the whole city of Junchou was wiped out in a big flood. Most of the people there didn’t even have a chance to yell for help before they drowned.

Only the old lady Kung escaped. The day before the flood, her littlest grandchild had come down with malaria. She took him to a temple in the mountains to burn incense and pray for the gods to cure him. A few days later, he was okay, so she left the temple. When she got home, she found the whole town was gone, and only she and her grandchild had escaped. Everybody else was dead.

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